Trayvon Martin: A Victim of the Fear State

There’s a lot of outrage over the death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, last month. Trayvon was allegedly killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who is claiming “self-defense.”

I’m not really clear on what actually happened. It appears that Trayvon entered a gated neighborhood, visting his father, when Zimmerman confronted him. Trayvon ran, unsure of what was going on, and Zimmerman—apparently the guy was some sort of criminal—shot and killed him. At some point during all of this, Zimmerman spoke with a 911 dispatcher, who asked him to back down. At least, this is what I think, from my limited knowledge, happened. (It should be noted that Zimmerman has not been arrested and is still out and about, though apparently in hiding.)

There have been calls to disarm neighborhood watch groups over this. There is also a lot of criticism towards a particular Florida law, called “Stand Your Ground,” which brings the self-defense claim out of the home and anywhere the person may be. These are both charges I disagree with; I am against disarming people in general, since law enforcement is essentially useless when it comes to actual, personal defense, and it seems ludicrous to me that you can defend yourself in your home but not on the street, such as if you get mugged. Such arguments are irrational.

But so are defenses of George Zimmerman.

Let’s not beat around the bush, here: Zimmerman killed an unarmed boy. He did so on the most specious of arguments; basically, from what I can determine, he did it because the boy was “suspicious.” According to one of Zimmerman’s neighbors, Frank Taaffe, when asked by Anderson Cooper on CNN:

 

 

When asked if he believes race played a factor in Trayvon’s death Taaffe said, “Absolutely not.” When asked why he felt so strongly he said, “George is not a racist. He was just performing his duties as watch captain. Whether it be African American, Latino, Asian, or white, he would’ve done the same thing. He would have appropriate the person, asked him ‘What’s your business here?’ and if he had just answered him in an appropriate manor, ‘I’m just here visiting. My mother’s house is around the corner,’ and be upfront and truthful, there wouldn’t be any problem.”

 

Honestly, this is none of Zimmerman’s damn business. Zimmerman has no right nor obligation to go up to someone—anyone—and ask them what they’re doing on the street. People have a right to privacy and they have a right to go where they will, provided they do not violate private property rights. It would be one thing if Trayvon was on Zimmerman’s lawn. Then, naturally, Zimmerman would have the right (and I would say the responsibility) to ask Trayvon what the heck he was doing and tell him to shoo. But on the sidewalk? Out on the street? That’s not Zimmerman’s property. He has no right to demand anything from Trayvon. Anyone defending Zimmerman here—including his neighbor—are idiots and should be ashamed of themselves.

While watching this interview and listening to this sad news, I wondered just where this attitude comes from. And yes, I know you know what I’m going to say: it comes back to the government, and also the media. Since 9/11—and even before—we have bred a culture of fear in the United States. We are constantly looking around for terrorists under the bed and drug dealers in the closet. When we board the subway to go to work, we hear announcements demanding “If you see something, say something,” as if this was actually 1984 and we were on Airstrip One. Despite the fact that crime has actually plummeted, the media has constantly put crime front and center, and made it look like it’s far more common and violent than it actually is. For the longest time, I thought Syracuse, New York was more dangerous than the Persian Gulf, thanks to the nightly news. Is this something important that should be disseminated? Yes. But far too often news networks, in the search for ratings, exaggerate it, presenting a disorted image of society to viewers, and make them scared.

And it turns people like George Zimmerman into self-righteous vigilante crusaders. And it turns young men like Trayvon Martin into corpses.

This has got to stop. The War on Drugs, the War on Terror, this fascination with crime and violence, it has to end before we tear ourselves apart. Our nation has overcriminalized damn near everything. We’re starting to look at each other not as neighbors or fellow citizens, but criminals. No society can operate without a sense of trust, even if it is in complete strangers. We need to act fast and reverse this trend, regain our civil liberties and our senses, before we destroy ourselves and nothing is left standing.


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